A Great Interview with Louise Minchin on what it is like working with Total Tri Training Coach Claire Holliman and how what may seem the impossible at first can be achieved if you simply believe and follow the process.
Hi Louise, congratulations on the last few years success in the sport, it has been great watching you smash all your targets. You have worked with Claire for a while now, how have you found it?
Claire has been coaching me for the last five years. I had only done a couple of triathlons when we first started to work together, and I was still finding 5k tough to run. Since then, she has successfully helped me reach all, of the increasingly ridiculous goals I have set myself.
She first coached me to qualify for the World Triathlon Championships in my age-group in Chicago in 2015, and then on to the two more World Championships, Sprint distance in Rotterdam and The Gold Coast, the European Championships in Lisbon, and the World Aquabike Championships in Denmark.
There are a lot of hard races out there, Why did you decide to do Patagonman?
I was never planning to do an Ironman distance race, until I happened to catch sight of a tweet from a race called Patagonman. I was just looking for something to do to celebrate my 50th birthday, when it caught my eye. 25 years earlier, I had spent four happy months working as an interpreter in Patagonia. Unbelievably the race was in the tiny town where I had worked all those years ago. The event itself would be epic. It was an extreme triathlon, based on Norseman, which would start with a jump from a ferry in the dark before dawn, a 3.8k swim in an icy fjord, then a tough 180 bike ride into the foothills of the Andes and an off-road marathon. For me it would be a massive challenge, but I couldn’t resist it.
What was Claire’s reaction when you told her you wanted to do Patagonman?
I really wanted to tell Claire in person to see her reaction to my latest adventure, but she found out before I could tell her. Total Tri Training coach Andy Hamilton happened to be listening to a podcast where the organisers of the race announced I was doing it, so she rang me instead, asking; “Have you got something to tell me?” Thankfully she was used to my over ambitious plans, and wasn’t intimidated by my choice. As ever she was realistic about the challenge, and told me it was going to be really tough, I would have to knuckle down, but with hard work an Ironman distance should be doable.
With 11 months to prepare for the race what did Claire think your priorities would be?
First of all, making sure I got to the race uninjured. To do that I would have to build up to the distances slowly, especially on the run, and I needed to concentrate not just on swimming, biking and running but also on strength and conditioning. The second priority was to do as much training as possible so on the day I could enjoy it.
Swimming is your best discipline, how did Claire help you with approaching it?
With only a couple of days a week to go swim training, Claire set me one technique session a week, including pace work, and then if I had time, a longer endurance session. When the open water season started in the summer, she encouraged to me to build up to the full distance outdoors, with a few long swims over the summer.
The water temperature in the race was a worry as it was likely to be as cold as 10C, so as the colder autumnal months arrived, I kept on swimming when it was safe outdoors, to try and acclimatise to colder water.
In the potentially icy water of southern Chile the right swim gear was going to be key, so Claire made sure I had time to test it all, balaclava, swim vest, booties and gloves.
What were her main coaching points for the bike?
Claire told me it was vital that I built my strength on the bike. I love the cycle section, but I needed to be stronger especially, to be able to cope with the hills. With time being tight, we concentrated on training on my indoor turbo. To do that Claire uploaded a couple bike sets for me to follow on Zwift every week. We also chose a couple of long-distance races and Sportives over the summer for me to take part in, to test my legs.
I was already signed up for the World Aqua Bike Championships which would be a good test of how I was doing on both the bike and the swim, and I also signed up for Ride London (100 miles) and Tour de Mon (70 miles).
The hard work paid off, in every event I was much quicker than both Claire and I thought I would be.
In the last few months before the race she also made sure I did some long distance 5/6 hour bike rides into the Welsh hills, and I spent several hours slogging up the Horse Shoe Pass, to try and replicate the Patagonian Hills.
Running is the toughest discipline for you, how did you both approach training for the marathon?
The marathon was always going to be the most difficult part of the race for me, and Claire was very conscious that as I am prone to running injures, the priority was to make me increase the distances very slowly. We knew the marathon was off-road, so right from the start of training, she advised that I ran on trails and paths not on roads or a treadmill. Running was my main focus, with at least two but more often three sets a week and runs off the bike.
The different sessions she set me included speed work, hill work and technique, and every week an endurance run. The long run would steadily increase in distance and duration every week. By the time I got to the last few weeks, I was running a half marathon distance every weekend, culminating in a brutal but spectacular mountain run in Wales with Claire and a handful other athletes.
What about food and nutrition?
I have messed up races because I haven’t paid attention to my nutrition, and we had long discussions about when and what to eat and drink, and how to make sure I was taking enough nutrition on board during the race. The most brilliant thing she introduced me to was glucose tablets, brilliant pick me ups, not sickly and easy to carry, and she insisted that I practised nutrition on the long bike rides and runs.
How did she prepare you mentally?
Claire is brilliant at boosting my confidence. While being tough and constantly pushing me, she is also relentlessly encouraging, and optimistic. She always helps me think I can achieve my goals, even when I have massive moments of self-doubt. I trust her implicitly, and know if I follow her training plans, then on competition day I will have the best possible chance of racing to my full potential, and not letting myself or anyone else down.
She is brilliant at giving me coping strategies for when the going gets tough. One of the best tips she taught me was when things get difficult wherever I am in the race, do something in that moment to make it better, have something to eat, drink, count whatever might make a difference, and most important of all smile!
Claire has been a brilliant coach. Without her I never would have qualified for the GB team, and nor would I have finished an XTri in Patagonia. My favourite moments have been when we have cycled, run or raced together, and she brought me to tears when she brought me a good luck card covered with our smiling training selfies, which I took with me to Chile for Patagonman. On race day all her coaching and advice paid off and I finished the race exhausted but exhilarated in 16 hours and 34 minutes with a huge smile on my face. We are now planning the next few adventures!
If you would like to work with Claire please Click HERE